How librarians in Kansas are helping their patrons find that next great book.
Q: Per your request in our last column, I’ll stipulate that this is not a question about e-books. But as the e-book debate has rolled on, there has been much made of the innovative ways libraries now work to promote books and authors, a lot of it through technology—and not just for bestsellers, but for those good, often overlooked deep backlist books. That is a very general preamble, but I wonder if you might point to an example or two of libraries you see doing innovative work to promote reading?
A: In the midst of the sturm und drang absorbing libraries these days—e-books being just one example—I’m taking a lot of pleasure in the marvelous, creative work of many libraries as they go about promoting books, reading, and themselves as a public good. Much of this work does revolve around social media, but not everything. And one library that I’m mighty impressed with is the Lawrence Public Library, in Lawrence, Kans.
Lawrence is a college town (University of Kansas) with a population of around 89,000, including students, and the library has about 58 full-time employees, a third having M.L.S. degrees. When I visited there last year to do a program hosted by the library’s foundation, the community had recently passed a bond measure to expand the library building (work on it hadn’t yet begun), and they were in the process of hiring a new director.
Since that visit, I’ve kept in touch with Susan Brown, LPL’s marketing director, and the great work I see coming out of LPL only emphasizes to me how vital it is to have an excellent marketing director on your library staff. Now, LPL doesn’t have a reader’s advisory desk, let alone an RA department, or, as Susan added in an e-mail, “much of a focus on RA, until recently.” She went on: “My colleagues and I have basically used social media... to create our own, virtual RA desk. We have an awesome social media team here. I am the coordinator, but I really just let creative, engaged people who share my vision do whatever the heck they want!”
And good golly, Miss Molly, do I love what the LPL team is doing. They’re active on Twitter, and I think Susan’s article “What We Tweet About When We Tweet About Books,” originally published in the February 2012 RA News Newsletter, should be required reading for staff and administration alike.
When it comes to Facebook, Susan writes that the library has almost tripled its following in the past year or two, mostly by posting fun, funky, and interesting book-related content. Under the leadership of Molly Wetta, an assistant in the YA department, LPL also has a presence on Pinterest.
LPL also participated as a library in World Book Night and recently adapted the idea of World Book Night to kick off “Read Across Lawrence.” The library gave away hundreds of copies of both its adult selection (Daniel Woodrell’s Winter’s Bone) and kids’ selection (Marie Rutkoski’s Cabinet of Wonders) all over town in a One Book/One City–style event.
For 2012’s Banned Books Week, LPL put out a call to local artists to create a work on paper inspired by a banned book or author—then selected seven works to print as trading cards: yes, banned book trading cards! The cards could be picked up at the library or the Lawrence Arts Center, and the Lawrence Journal-World printed each day’s card on the front page and the cards are on the library’s Web site.
Last but certainly not least is one of LPL’s newest projects that I just love—a chart helping people find their next good read. It is genius! “As a marketing director, I recognize that reader’s advisory is one of our most marketable services and provides great material for content marketing,” Susan explains on her blog, in launching the new program. “We live in a visual world and our content should respond to this reality.” I couldn’t agree more.
We’ve included a portion of the “If you liked the Hunger Games chart” (from the creative genius of Molly Wetta) above. (The whole thing, and links to others are online here.)
Nancy Pearl, a veteran Seattle librarian, is a regular commentator about books on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition.